Keeping Food Out of Landfills

Keeping Food Out of Landfills

A $30 Billion Opportunity 
Lindsay Jolivet September 25, 2017
Management at a Tim Hortons manufacturing plant could have sent discarded ingredients to a landfill. Instead, they trained staff to cut down on waste.

The results were impressive. The plant, Fruition Fruits & Fills, sent 43 fewer garbage trucks to the landfill each year and saved enough water to fill 15 Olympic-size swimming pools. In the process, the plant saved nearly half a million dollars a year in costs.
Saving food from rotting in landfills can lower costs and help keep food production sustainable. The food industry – among many other industries – has a big opportunity to innovate and reap the rewards of cutting waste. 

The Leaky Food Chain

Wasted food is wasted money. About 40 per cent of food goes to waste in North America: $30 billion worth. Waste happens at every step in the process that brings food from farm to table. Farmers may toss ugly produce, or poor packaging may lead to spoilage. Households waste the most:  buying too much and tossing because it passes the “best before” date.
Here’s where the waste happens:
Figure 1. Where Food is Wasted Farm to Fork

A Recipe for Innovation

Everyone from farmers to industry associations can take advantage of opportunities to reduce food waste. NBS research has revealed smart ways to move toward better efficiency, not only in food production but also in manufacturing, forestry, and many other industries. 

Remember your Rs.

First, find where waste is coming from and reduce it. Tools offered by the industry group Provision Coalition and others can help identify the root causes.  Stop waste before it happens, for example, by using better packaging that extends the shelf life of food. Next, redistribute. Companies will often pay for trash from other companies that they can repurpose in their own products. Unused food products could be sold to companies that make animal food or other products.

Embrace ugly. 

Baby carrots began as a solution to the problem of ugly, misshapen carrots. Producers began carving out tiny carrots so as not to waste carrots that might not sell. Which unloved scraps could become the next innovative product at your company? 

Make friends. 

Look outside your company for innovation ideas and new expertise. Research shows the most innovative companies have a network. In food production, participating in networking opportunities that bring together people from agriculture, packaging, distribution and other areas can spark ideas and create change. 

Know your real costs. 

Disposal fees are not the whole cost of industrial waste. The cost of a wasted steak is also the cost of the food and water to feed the cow, the meat packaging and transportation, and every other step in the production process. Innovation can take place at any point along this value chain. It can be big or small; it can create new products or improve a process. A big picture outlook makes these opportunities clearer.

Innovating to Sustainability and Success

Ugly carrots. Industrial symbiosis. Different costing methods. These are all new approaches that have helped the food industry tackle waste.
NBS sees innovation as a way that all industries can improve their social and environmental impact, and their financial viability. For example, the Innovation Project, which recently launched, helps companies solve complex challenges by innovating their innovation process. NBS researchers use design thinking and a systems lens, making sustainability an integral part of the innovation process rather than an afterthought. The Innovation Project builds on NBS resources including a four part guide for small businesses looking to drive innovation.
Innovating for sustainability not only helps people and the planet, it strengthens reputation, improves employee retention, and draws in customers. 

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